Can Safeway slam the door shut on shoplifters?

Discussion
Photo: Getty Images/SweetBabeeJay
Dec 07, 2021

As a number of major U.S. cities continue to grapple with the problem of violent, orchestrated retail theft, Safeway in San Francisco is rolling out restrictive solutions it hopes will stop the shoplifting mobs.

Customers entering one Safeway location near San Francisco’s Castro district are now greeted with metal gates that swing shut and lock behind them, preventing anyone from making a break for it with a shopping cart full of items, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. The self-checkout area is now surrounded by barriers to direct customers through a single exit, un-staffed checkouts are blocked off with metal barriers and the side entrance to the store is entirely blocked off.

The measures have not gone unnoticed by customers, with one overheard by the Chronicle describing the store location as “getting weirder and weirder.” Others interviewed said they did not have concerns about the changes, saying they made things seem more organized and did not impede the shopping experience.

Safeway’s enhanced security measures come in the wake of an explosion in brazen, flash-mob style shoplifting.

The week of Thanksgiving, locations of Nordstrom, Lululemon, Louis Vuitton, Bloomingdale’s, Burberry and Neiman Marcus in major markets were all targeted and ransacked by organized mobs of shoplifters.

Even before the high-profile spate of holiday incidents, some retailers had begun making changes to their operations in some markets in response to this type of crime. Walgreens, for instance, closed five San Francisco locations due to an unsustainable rate of theft.

Best Buy recently said that a high rate of organized shoplifting was putting pressure on its bottom line, according to Axios. The chain is experiencing a nationwide problem but pointed to Northern California as a theft hotspot.

While store closures, limited hours and now the installation of gates and barriers represent some of the ways retailers are trying to get their arms around this problem, others have begun experimenting with more creative, higher-tech loss prevention solutions.

Home Depot, for instance, has begun using a system that makes power tools useless for resale unless first activated via Bluetooth at checkout.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Do you see Safeway’s introduction of barriers and other security measures as workable long-term solutions that will deter theft? Are there alternative solutions that would mitigate the types of mass thefts that have recently hit retail stores?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
Braintrust
"San Francisco retailers have to take decisive action, and I doubt that these measures will deter legitimate shoppers."
"Safeway’s actions may not deter all shoplifter theft, but they do make Safeway a less desirable place to target."
"I firmly believe that leveraging technology is a better answer than installing barriers and making a store into a fortress to keep people in."

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19 Comments on "Can Safeway slam the door shut on shoplifters?"


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Jeff Weidauer
BrainTrust

The balance between an open, self-serve environment and the challenge of stopping shoplifters is a delicate one. Locking things up and adding other theft-deterring elements like gates will steer many shoppers away.

Paula Rosenblum
BrainTrust

The last time we checked, chains were big on keys to lock up high margin goods.

Lee Peterson
BrainTrust

Wow, what a conundrum. You can see why the drug guys closed stores there. Two things, although not the only things: 1.) increase staff presence on the floor and the lot — at least you could see when it’s coming and react by calling in the cavalry and 2.) ramp up that BOPAS, man, as the worst part of these incursions is that customers don’t want to be involved in anything like that so offer them options. Certainly BOPAS is a good one. That aside, this could be the worst thing I’ve seen in 30+ years of retail. Says a lot about the state of the nation.

Paula Rosenblum
BrainTrust

I somehow think that Safeway’s products are not the target of these gangs. Can you imagine guys on the street selling “hot” cans of peas? So I feel like it’s kind of irrelevant.

Scott Norris
Guest

Baby formula, already in short supply with rising prices, easy to fence. Diapers, too! OTC meds, beauty supplies are light/small with high value.

Neil Saunders
BrainTrust

Safeway has a right to protect its merchandise and staff. However the downside of this is that it creates a bad shopping environment for some honest customers. It’s the same thing when stores lock up things like razor blades and baby formula – understandable, but somewhat inconvenient. And of course, this type of action would do nothing to prevent professional gangs (not that they’re likely targeting Safeway). There needs to be much tougher policies on shoplifting from some of these cities and states which have become far too lenient over recent years.

Cathy Hotka
BrainTrust

San Francisco retailers have to take decisive action, and I doubt that these measures will deter legitimate shoppers.

Ken Morris
BrainTrust

I firmly believe that leveraging technology is a better answer than installing barriers and making a store into a fortress to keep people in. Unfortunately, some retailers now have to treat certain stores as war zones and take drastic measures like Safeway is doing. The majority, though, should be paying attention to advanced telecommunications technology like 5G, which will give us much higher and cheaper bandwidth and allow us to fulfill the promise of real-time retail and loss prevention. Video analytics solutions already exist to identify these thefts and layers with prescriptive analytics can trigger a response in real time to local authorities and create case management solutions to prosecute these people. The technology exists to thwart this threat. we just need to allocate the funds and deploy. Also, RFID tags are replacing hard tags at soft goods retailers. For higher-priced items in grocery, like small appliances, this is viable as an additional layer of loss prevention.

James Tenser
BrainTrust

I haven’t heard yet of any flash-mob looting of a grocery store, but I’m certain that common shoplifting is not rare in some neighborhoods. If Safeway has been losing money in certain stores due to theft, it can’t be blamed for trying new tactics.
There is some irony here, of course, that a retail business model predicated on self-service would need to be modified with gates, traffic barriers, cameras, etc.
If those anti-theft measures create a feeling of security for shoppers, they will likely be well accepted. If the design of those measures creates a menacing atmosphere, some shoppers (likely the biggest spenders) will seek alternative locations.

Dr. Stephen Needel
BrainTrust

I wonder how much in-store “advertising” they did to tell their shoppers the barriers were for their safety? That should make it less weird.

Perry Kramer
BrainTrust

Safeway and all retailers will need to continue to adapt the physical store to protect its customers, employees, and bottom line. If the same changes were made in a rural location in the Midwest, we would not be talking about it. Unfortunately, these types of changes need to be made to deter theft and will soon become the norm in many areas. In the Home Depot example, someone will figure out how to defeat the Bluetooth security measure. However for many retailers the approach is to continue to add levels of deterrence as there is no single solution.

David Spear
BrainTrust

I hope all retailers can slam the door on shoplifting, but there are larger problems in society that contribute to this situation. Retailers need to implement smart measures with a blend of operations and technology to preempt these attacks. Home Depot’s Bluetooth solution is innovative, but that won’t work on high-end jewelry or designer bags. Implementing measures for Best Buy will be different than Safeway and will be different than Lowe’s. In every case, however, smart minds from our public and private communities need to pull together to stop this lawlessness.

RandyDandy
Guest
9 months 18 days ago
No, there aren’t mobs ransacking Safeways or Walgreens. Still the goods shoplifted from these places do find their ways to illegal third-parties. Like sidewalk vendors. Where these items can be sold at 100 percent profit! Also, thievery from these places constitute a proving ground. Like a kid’s school prepares a student for the big universities. Yes, it’s the reality that so long as crimes of this nature are considered “too small” to properly punish, the perpetrators feel more and more emboldened to go on to those bigger ticket items. Which is precisely what has been happening here in San Francisco (and all similarly governed cities). Consequently yes, these convenience (and grocery) stores need to enact stronger measures to deter crime as best they can. However it is incumbent upon the governing forces of the communities in which all these operations exist to actually punish crimes. Regardless of their severity, if you let the little bad things go by, they inevitably grow into these larger and harder to solve problems. No amount of gates or tags… Read more »
Rich Kizer
BrainTrust

Do I see Safeway’s introduction of barriers and other security measures as workable long-term solutions? Not long term. Someone gets in with a gun, they better hope people can escape the store. In a case of a fire? Seems to me that it’s better to have a very efficient system that would some how allow customers out when a horrible act takes place.

Steve Montgomery
BrainTrust

Safeway’s actions may not deter all shoplifter theft, but they do make Safeway a less desirable place to target. Their actions may make customers feel safer. But the unfortunate fact is, the shoplifters are likely to find a softer target so the problem doesn’t’ go away, it just moves down the street.

Kenneth Leung
BrainTrust

It depends on the location, and given the current situation in San Francisco there isn’t a choice if they want to maintain coverage in the area. The alternative is to close the store which they are not willing to do. Right now physical barriers and increased hands on security is the only solution in the short term in the face of the organized shoplifting that is going on. Target in my area has most of the high theft items secured behind doors (toothpaste, laundry detergent, etc) and increased security personnel coverage. Until the police and prosecutor break up the organized crime rings it is going to be in the norm for a while.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest

Others interviewed said they did not have concerns about the changes, saying they made things seem more organized and did not impede the shopping experience.

That’s the answer Safeway is hoping to hear, whether, or really how often they do, we’ll just have to see; the historical record isn’t overly encouraging (at least here in the Bay Area, decades ago, Safeway was an early and vigorous closer of inner-city stores, many of which became … Walgreens!).

I don’t see much potential in “high tech” solutions: tagging or “activating” a carrot just isn’t practical.
And finally, at the risk of seeming either naive or an apologist, I question linking together theft like this — which truly fits the definition of what’s commonly understood as “shoplifting” — with the kind of brazen, organized robbery we’ve seen at higher-end retailers: it’s hard to believe either the perpetrators, the motivation or the solution(s) is(are) the same.

Ananda Chakravarty
BrainTrust

Safeway is using a proven technique to deter theft and it’s just as strong as an ADT sign on a residential lawn. Thieves will prefer easier targets, but it reduces the issue for Safeway. The root cause still needs to be solved for and might be a bit more problematic, requiring more than just installing security barricades.

storewanderer
Guest
9 months 18 days ago
They have to do whatever they can. They already close the store at 9 PM, and they already have the entire drug/health and beauty aisle locked up. Also various other areas of the store are locked up. Also expect the “plastic bag ban” that San Francisco is so proud of is making it easier for thieves. Thieves can easily go in with reusable bags and blend with other shoppers using reusable bags. In the simplest loss prevention sense when you are watching traffic going out the door, bagged merchandise=paid merchandise. But when you have so many things going on with exiting customers involving reusable bags, some people using no bags, some customers paying the mandated .25 per bag super thick plastic bag fee in San Francisco, or in some cases a single individual using all 3 methods described above, you have a situation where simply observing whether product is bagged or not is no longer a viable loss prevention method to determine if product has been paid for or not. And it makes it much… Read more »
wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"San Francisco retailers have to take decisive action, and I doubt that these measures will deter legitimate shoppers."
"Safeway’s actions may not deter all shoplifter theft, but they do make Safeway a less desirable place to target."
"I firmly believe that leveraging technology is a better answer than installing barriers and making a store into a fortress to keep people in."

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